With the trade of DeAngelo Hall and the signing of Asante Samuel, cornerbacks have been heavily talked about during the offseason.
With the growing number of high-octane offenses throwing the ball at will, the league has started to place a premium on having two (and sometimes three) quality cornerbacks to match up with receivers.
With the new rules in place, we will most likely never see a complete shutdown corner in the likes of Mel Blount, Night Train Lane, and Deion Sanders but these are the best combos out there today.
No. 5: Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown, PHI
Asante Samuel is a smaller corner but plays bigger than he is, often trying for the big hit against bigger-bodied wideouts.
Samuel is not a corner with tremendous speed, but he does well in zone or man-to-man coverage. Developing with the Patriots has given him a strong sense of awareness of the ball and the field.
Without the blazing speed, he occasionally gets beat in coverage by faster receivers, but usually makes up with it on cuts and angles.
Another area of attack for opposing offenses is his size. At 5-foot-10, quarterbacks sometimes toss up the jump ball against him and he can be had on fade patterns, but is very willing to fight for the ball.
He does take chances to make a play on the ball, but has the closing burst to close well and is a great open field tackler. He also has good hands, allowing him to pick off passes and fend off receivers.
Questions about Samuel usually revolve around how good he will be now that he is out of the Patriot fold. We all saw the decline in Ty Law once he left.
However, the Eagles’ scheme is very similar to the Patriots. It is a pass rush-heavy pass defense. Expecting Lito Sheppard to be traded, Sheldon Brown would be the likely pair with Samuel in the Eagles’ secondary.
Brown is also a smaller, physical player who is a good press-cover corner, and excels in man-to-man coverage over zone coverage. He is very strong and loves to play the bump-and-run.
Once in coverage, Brown has learned to get in position and is quite adept at reading routes. Working in Jimmy Johnson’s defense has really improved his technique. He has excellent ball skills and is a good tackler against the run.
Brown’s shortcomings are very similar to Samuel in that he also lacks the size to compete with the bigger wideouts and the speed to keep up with the burners, and that remains the biggest concern in this backfield.
No. 4: Nnamdi Asomugha and DeAngelo Hall, OAK
Nnamdi Asomugha was a slow study to start his career, but has really blossomed of late. He has excellent tools to work with; excellent size at 6-foot-2, 210 lbs to go along with top-end speed. Although, he is not as fluid as some of the other top corners, his foot quickness and agility are adequate but he has a little stiffness in his hips and knees.
He is a better bump-and-run corner where he can trail the receiver instead of a cover corner. He looks a bit tight in transition and often loses a step on the receiver, but has enough explosive quickness and speed to make up the difference.
Asomugha struggles a bit from man-off as he is not yet good at route recognition or reading the quarterback’s eyes and getting a jump on the ball. This will all come with more playing time.
He is strong and has long arms that allow him to jam receivers or re-route them when he is able to get a hand on them. He is also a strong tackler and is not afraid to come up and force the run.
The 2006 season was a breakout for Asomugha as he came up with eight interceptions after being shutout his first three years in the league, and he built on that last year as well. He has come a long way in terms of playing the ball he is still a work in progress. Playing with DeAngelo Hall may help his development.
Hall is a corner of polarizing opinions. He is an exceptional man-to-man defender but an ordinary zone defender who uses his incomparable 4.2 speed to compensate for bad decisions.
In addition to his speed, Hall also has phenomenal quickness, closing speed, and agility, preferring to play off his man to try and jump the routes.
While he is not the strongest of corners, he has some upper-body strength. He is able to jam receivers and can shed a block, providing some help on run support but it is not his strength.
Hall also has great instincts with the ball in his hands, and combined with his speed is a threat to take it the distance any time he intercepts the ball. Hall’s coverage skills start to break down when a receiver manages to get in his head. He is brash and arrogant and will over-commit.
He also needs to work on his has sloppy footwork. Not the best in the film room, Hall hasn't taken the time to work on getting proper body position and has gotten used to solving all of his problems with just his speed; this causes him to gamble and is prone to giving up big plays.
Overall, this tandem has amazing speed and can keep up with any of the receivers in the league. Given they are both better as man-to-man, expect them to play limited zone coverages.
No. 3: Quentin Jammer and Antonio Cromartie, SD
His development was slow, but Quentin Jammer has developed to the point where he's a Top 15 NFL corner, and one of the best pure cover corners.
He is also a very physical corner (matching his name), excelling in run coverage and hits and tackles with the very best corners in the league.
Now six years into the league, Jammer had to adjust to the significant rule changes that penalize corners for any intentional contact with receivers more than five yards off the line of scrimmage. In fact, Jammer led the league in flags for illegal contact in 2005, and was near the top again in 2006; last season he seemed to figure it out.
The ongoing fault people find with Jammer, and what limits him from being a truly elite corner is his lack of interceptions. He has never had more than four interceptions in a season.
However, with Antonio Cromartie on the other side, his team doesn't suffer from his lack of interceptions. His overall game is so rounded that his interception deficiency can be over looked.
Dubbed “The Natural” by ESPN's John Clayton, he excels in man-to-man coverage and is still learning the zone schemes. At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds and possessing long arms, Cromartie is ideal for press coverage.
Nearly as fast as Hall, he still clocks in with a 4.3 40 yard time, and his style is smooth. Cromartie uses his breakneck speed, can't-be-taught instincts, exceptional turn-and-go flexibility, and exceptional hands to control his game.
Like Asomugha, he is still learning, and that is the scary part. Cromartie is an athletic freak, and his position coach, Bill Bradley, said he is becoming a student of the game.
As is the knock on a lot of speed corners, Antonio isn't the most physical of cornerbacks. Working with one of the most physical in Jammer, he's improved his hitting and tackling.
One AFC scout says that Cromartie will guess on some plays (going for the big play), which leaves him vulnerable to completions. He still can be beaten with some double moves, but he will improve in that area the more he plays.